FY 2015 Request - $6.7 Billion in Discretionary Funding
President's Budget Request
The White House, which released its budget on March 4, transmitted the judiciary’s FY 2015 budget request of $6.735 billion in discretionary appropriations without changes, as required by law. The judiciary is proposing a budget that is $219 million − or 3.4 percent − over its FY 2014 funding level. This is not a very large increase, considering that the judiciary has operated with flat funding since 2010, except for FY 2013 when its funding was cut by $350 million as a result of mandatory sequestration. (For a summary of the effects of sequestration and deficit reduction on funding for the courts in FY 2013 and FY 2014, please click here.)
The requested increase is required to enable the clerks of court, probation and pretrial services offices, and federal defender organizations to continue backfilling vacancies. It also is needed to fund projected workload requirements in defender services, provide for a sufficient level of security at federal court facilities nationwide, and ensure sufficient funds for juror costs associated with criminal and civil jury trials.
A breakdown of the budget request by account line is available here.
Spending Limit Set. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 established the top-line discretionary spending limit for the federal government for FY 2015 at an amount that is only $2 billion higher than this year's, with instructions that it is to be split equally between defense and non-defense spending. The small increase in discretionary spending dollars limits the ability of Congress to provide any part of the government − including the judiciary — with significantly increased funding for FY 2015.
It was hoped that setting the top-line spending limit prior to the start of the FY 2015 appropriations process would set a new tone this session and expedite consideration of the 12 annual appropriations bills, but that failed to materialize; the process fell victim to election-year politics and a continuing resolution once again was necessary to keep the government funded after October 1.
House Appropriations. The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government held a series of hearings in the spring. Judge Julia Gibbons, Chair of the Judicial Conference Committee on the Budget, testified in support of the proposed budget before the Subcommittee on March 26.
H.R. 5016, the House Financial Services and General Government FY 2015 appropriations bill, was approved by the full committee and passed by the House in July. It provides $6.7 billion in discretionary spending for the judiciary, 2.5% more than the current level, but 1% less than requested.
Senate Appropriations. The counterpart Senate bill, which was approved by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government and released only in draft, is very similar to the House version. It apportions the money slightly differently and provides approximately $162 million more in overall funding. The full committee did not consider the bill.
Unlike the House, which passed seven of the 12 annual appropriations bills, the Senate failed to act on any of them. Election-year politics took its toll in the Senate, where debate on a three-in-one spending package became embroiled in a partisan dispute over amendments in June. Furthermore, the crisis of unaccompanied children and the implications for immigration policy, which lawmakers had hoped to put on the back burner in order to pass fiscal 2015 spending bills, dominated the Senate’s appropriations debate and derailed the process.
Continuing Resolution. Both chambers abandoned further work on individual appropriation bills after the August recess. Instead, eager to sidestep any threat of a government shutdown on October 1, appropriators turned their attention to crafting a short continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government funded until after the elections.
In mid-September, the House and Senate passed HJ Res 124, a stop-gap measure that will provide FY 2015 funding for the government from October 1 through December 11 at 2014 levels. The most controversial part of the CR was the addition of a narrowly drawn authorization to train and arm Syrian rebels. The President is expected to sign the measure promptly.